For Music and News Industries, Power is Now With the People


I have strong thoughts and passion on this subject, and decided to put down just some in a feature connecting the music and news industries with a little history, the future and why everyone needs to come together and not fight change.

As both an artist and someone who works closely with the media industry, I believe I have a unique perspective on how similar the challenges are facing both of these industries and how it is unfortunate that the big players are using their positions of power to destroy a beautiful evolution of technology and communication.

This evolution ultimately will impact society in an incredibly positive way, bringing down the gatekeepers and creating a completely open and free cultural and information economy.

That is, if we (the independents) can win, and the laws are not bent to the fortune of the few when the power of the many is what will most benefit humanity.

Both the music and news industries, have unfortunately made similar mistakes – such as not embracing change, fighting against what the market (and their consumers) want, and heading down self-destructive paths.

A similar history

For years, both the music industry and the newspaper industries have enjoyed uninterrupted monopolies on their respective content that would reach the world.

Both systems used vastly overcomplicated and biased management and editorial decisions.

Both systems were highly profitable, hard to break into and closed unless you had the right connections.

Prior to mass adoption of the Internet:

  • A small group decided what was “worthy” for both music and news
  • Quality was sacrificed for what would sell
  • It was cost-prohibitive for individuals to have influence on a mass scale
  • There were several levels of gatekeepers
  • Both the music and news industries internally felt indestructible

Technology as the enabler of freedom

Enter the digital age, where the walls have come crashing down and everyone has equal footing.

  • Anyone can now publish news in any format they would like and distribute for next to nothing
  • Anyone can create music in their home studio with cheap digital equipment that rivals the studios of old and then distribute globally for next to nothing
  • People with passion can succeed in distributing information, music, pictures and any type of content all on their own without needing the approval of gatekeepers and editors

Power is no longer held by the minority

It is a beautiful era we’re living in as user generated content rises to power, and a modern renaissance is taking place as content is produced by independent people not for profit, but as works of love.

This is the way information was meant to be shared, and is certainly the vision of the original creators of networking technology. Independents have been given new life due to amazing new tools. Now everyone can post their content for millions of people to access, and in many cases people do this without any pay as pure acts of passion.

The content you are reading now is completely free, with no benefit to me other than being able to share my ideas and be able to connect with you. Some people would question why I would do this, but unfortunately they do not understand the deep passion I have for the content I write on. Some can’t understand that not everything is done for profit.

Social media has enabled the spread of great content, regardless of publisher, and is the great equalizer in terms of focusing the attention of hundreds or millions on something special.

By special, I don’t mean that it has gone through layers of editors and filters – in fact many times it is very raw and unedited. I mean special as being compelling, interesting and personal – to 100 or 10 million people. Content is truly king in this space, and the users decide what is worthy of consumption, not gatekeeprs.

It is an equal playing field with the professionals, though they are equally free to take advantage of social sharing tools as well (and they do).

Ultimately, what both sides need to realize, is that they are not in competition for eyeballs. The world and its information have been diced and diced again, and general interest has no meaning (or at least, a lot less meaning) when you can find specific, focused material on any subject. This is what the old models relied on, and unfortunately they are no longer relevant in the modern world.

Many fight change at every possible turn instead of embracing it

Unfortunately, many of the old organizations are trying to bend the laws to stifle creativity and destroy user generated content and the democratization of both news and music.

Several massive, old school organizations that don’t understand the change that has happened are suing their own customers and trying to ruin services millions love.

Let’s look at some real world examples:


The RIAA sues its own customers into oblivion and clearly has it out to destroy itself (see literally hundreds of absolutely terrible moves by the RIAA here). Almost every single music fan the world over hates the RIAA. That’s not just my opinion – see here, here, here, here, here, here and here. I could link you to literally thousands of stories and discussions like that. You’d think an organization meant to support musicians might not work so hard to make music fans hate them. You’d be wrong.


Viacom is obviously in an outrageous quest to destroy YouTube. Guess what Viacom – your own customers love YouTube and will hate you if you succeed. Yes, you heard me right.

I still don’t think they have much of a case, but they have proceeded forward and now Google is forced to hand over their userdata to Viacom.

But, are the popular videos on YouTube even from Viacom?

From Gigaom:

But the $1 billion lawsuit – well that was too much given, that Viacom represented about 2% of the YouTube video views, according to a study by Vidmeter. (Get PDF) The copyrighted videos that were taken down by YouTube accounted for about 6% of the total views garnered by the 6,725 of YouTube’s most-viewed videos over the last three months, the study says. These videos were viewed a total of 94.2 million times.

The results of the new study only bolster our previous argument that YouTube is not built by big media. Liz Gannes puts it best when she says, “So maybe YouTube really is about the long tail, the little guy, and the lonely girl.” I think in the end, both parties will have to bury the hatchet and play nice with each other – just as our readers had predicted.

YouTube should clearly be protected under the DMCA. I’m hoping this lawsuit ends sooner rather than later, it is clearly just Viacom afraid of the future and trying to stop progress of something that is game-changing but they aren’t in control of. Yes, it is unfortunate a few people used the network to spread Viacom’s content, but YouTube is doing all it can to remove offending content. A one billion dollar lawsuit is clearly overblown and is certainly not worth the ill-will they are creating in the world against them.

The Associated Press

I am sure you have heard of the associated press trying to sue bloggers, but just in case you haven’t, here’s a clip of the story form TechDirt:

The Associated Press is going after bloggers for merely posting a linked headline and a tiny snippet of text from the article. In this case, Rogers Cadenhead informs us that the AP sent 7 DMCA takedown notices last week to his site, the Drudge Retort (a site that mocks the Drudge Report). In six cases, a blog post on the site quoted just a small snippet of text from an AP article (between 33 and 79 words — nowhere near the full length of the article). In every case, they also contained links back to the original AP article. Five of the six used a different headline than the original AP article. The other complaint was about a comment to a blog post, which also included a very short snippet and a link.

Any rational person would see that this is fair use, however the AP seems to think its content is somehow above everyone else’s and they don’t have to play by the rules. Great to see TechCrunch, the world’s most popular blog, put them in their place.

Why does this matter?

Do you have a minute? I could explain, but Lawerence Lessig, a Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and founder of the school’s Center for Internet and Society can put it far more eloquently:

Here’s his Ted talk on how creativity is being strangled by the law:

If you dig the video (I really urge you to take some time and watch, it is a fantastic presentation) and want to learn more, I suggest reading his book entitled Free Culture. It’s available free here in electronic format – but I suggest you purchase a copy so you can spread it around and support the movement (I have shared my copy with several friends).

Both music and news suffering the same fate

The newspaper industry is suffering from huge layoffs while the music industry is getting killed by iTunes and other digital services. I do feel bad for people losing their jobs, but that is an unfortunate consequence of any type of revolution.

Years ago, when the printing press was invented, I am sure many scribes were put out of work. I am sure that they fought hard with the government at the time to stop the spread of the printed word, but their leaders saw just how effective this new technology was and allowed it to thrive. With the advent of the printing press, a new industry was born. The same exact thing is happening today, except the printed word are analogous to the scribes, and the printing press to the web.

The industrial revolution also put many out of work, however at the same time it created a brand new, booming economy of jobs. We’re in the same place now – while traditional newsrooms and newspapers are shrinking, blogs, social media and online publications are booming. It is simply the natural progression.

In the music industry, the power is shifting to the independent artists slowly but surely, and the web has made it easy for new artists with passion to break in. Here I feel no remorse for anyone – the music industry has shifted to putting their dollars behind bland music that was so dull, uninspired and took no chances because that’s what was safe. But in music, safe is not interesting.

(side note: I have written on this previously, so if you’d like more of my thoughts on how the music industry has destroyed itself, click here. I’m sorry, but I cannot find value in any music played on broadcast radio or dulled-down for mass appeal.)

The music and the news industries had to have seen the writing on the wall, and basically decided to ignored it until it was too late. Bloggers and social media dominate the spread of information on the web, and iTunes and BitTorrent dominate music distribution.

Sure, the major players are here too with their big hits, but independent publishers don’t just dominate the long tail, we now also have plenty of hits. Have a look at the state of the blogosphere, for example (from David Sifry):

What the future holds

The future is certainly a mix of the traditional and the new for media, and independents and major artists for music, however I pose the following question:

What can these massive institutional organizations have to gain by suing/fighting their customers, putting roadblocks against societal change/new technology and ultimately going against progress?

They will only succeed in upsetting fans, frustrating up-and-coming artists and ultimately creating mass ill-will with people who could have been their best customers.

The scorched-earth strategy of abusing the DMCA, suing customers, and holding back new technologies must not be allowed to continue by the old-guard, for the future can bring a bright world of connectedness, communication and freedom to individuals.

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